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A nonprofit has received a donation of a large number (>100) decommissioned workstations. What would be the most efficient method of taking a standardized ISO image of a Debian Linux distribution (for example, Ubuntu LTS 14.x), and installing that on the formatted hard drives on each PC? Keep in mind, these are very different makes and models of laptops and desktops, but they share minimal specifications.

I'm sure some of you corporate system administrators have best practices on deciding whether (and how) to clone drives, ghost drives, copy drives network deploy, or manually install - given a workforce of one technician assigned to the task.

I am conflicted over the risks of copying drives (since they are a mixture of sizes and SATA and IDE interfaces), and the lag time to pull a gigabyte image over a SOHO 100Mbps Ethernet to multiple machines at a time.

What should the nonprofit volunteer technician do?

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For debian like systems you can use Fully Automatic Installation:

FAI is a non-interactive system to install, customize and manage Linux systems and software configurations on computers as well as virtual machines and chroot environments, from small networks to large-scale infrastructures like clusters and cloud environments. It's a tool for unattended mass deployment of Linux. You can take one or more virgin PC's, turn on the power, and after a few minutes, the systems are installed, and completely configured to your exact needs, without any interaction necessary.

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  • Thanks, and in your experience, which installation medium would work faster? A PXE(-type) network server deploying unattended installations over Ethernet, or manually using a DVD/USB? Considering the scale of work is activating over 100 machines, that is.
    – Yaaqov
    Feb 29, 2016 at 13:42
  • I will go with PXE because it's easy to setup and you can reuse it for later donations :)
    – molivier
    Feb 29, 2016 at 14:02

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